Two last-minute agriculture proposals land as WTO conference approaches

Brazil submits first ever counter proposal from “non-demandeurs” on domestic support in public stockholding

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JUNE 3, 2022 (REPLACING THIS ORIGINAL PAGE) | UPDATED JUNE 3, 2022

Less than two weeks before the re-scheduled World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference, two new proposals were circulated on May 31, 2022, on the most difficult subject in the agriculture negotiations — including the first from a “non-demandeur”.

The two proposals are from opposite sides on how to deal with domestic support in developing countries’ stockholding programmes for food security.

The debate in a meeting of WTO ambassadors two days later showed how far apart members still are on this with only 10 days to go before their ministers meet in Geneva. Members are now holding round-the-clock meetings to prepare for their June 12–15 Ministerial Conference

Continue reading “Two last-minute agriculture proposals land as WTO conference approaches”
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Two last-minute agriculture proposals land as WTO conference approaches

Brazil submits first ever counter proposal from “non-demandeurs” on domestic support in public stockholding

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JUNE 1, 2022 | UPDATED JUNE 1, 2022

Less than two weeks before the re-scheduled World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference, two new proposals were circulated on the most difficult subject in the agriculture negotiations — including the first from “non-demandeurs”.

The two proposals are from opposite sides on how to deal with domestic support in developing countries’ stockholding programmes for food security.

… This has been updated and re-posted here

Can a WTO member be expelled? No. But …

The response from almost all legal experts is simple: there are no provisions in the WTO agreements allowing expulsion or suspension

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED MARCH 23, 2022 | UPDATED MARCH 26, 2022

Can a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) be expelled? The short answer is no. There is no legal means of doing that.

The question arises because of a number of calls to expel Russia, to suspend its membership or to suspend its ability to act in the WTO, in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

Those three are not exactly the same. The first two — expulsion or suspending membership — are clearly legal issues. They require decisions by the WTO’s membership.

The response from almost all experts in WTO trade law is simple: there are no provisions in the WTO agreements that would allow expulsion or suspension.

Continue reading “Can a WTO member be expelled? No. But …”

‘Fisheries subsidies’ has been agreed by WTO ministers. What’s next?

The implications of the next procedural steps are little known. This could still take some time

UPDATE
Agreement was reached at the
rescheduled June 12–17 Ministerial Conference
Consensus was achieved by leaving out disciplines on subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing (Article 5). Members agree to complete negotiations on these in four years or else the new agreement will lapse (Article 12).

The final text is here (also in pdf).
It only gained consensus backing by removing a missing piece.
It says the new agreement will be inserted into Annex 1A (goods) after the Subsidies and Countervailing Measures Agreement. An official document certifying that the text is correct was circulated on July 13, 2022.

More updates are listed here
The points raised in the article below still hold even though it was first written before the original 2021 dates for the Ministerial Conference.

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED NOVEMBER 17, 2021 | UPDATED AUGUST 18, 2022

It was always touch-and-go whether World Trade Organization (WTO) members could strike a deal on curbing harmful fisheries subsidies when their ministers were due to meet first in November 2021, and then rescheduled in June 2022.

The agreement that they did eventually reach is incomplete. Consensus was achieved by leaving out disciplines on subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing. Members agreed to complete negotiations on these within in four years of the new agreement taking effect, or else it will lapse.

But even with the deal that was struck, there are more procedures to go through before it becomes WTO law and before it applies to WTO members.

That’s right. Even though agreement was reached on June 17, 2022, for now (July 2022) it is still not effective. It is not part of WTO law.

This article is about what is needed to turn the agreement into legal rules. How long that will take is up in the air, but it could be a year or two at least. It might even take longer.

That said, there’s nothing to stop members implementing unilaterally what they agree. On an issue like this they should do so anyway. But they would not be able to use, for example, WTO dispute settlement against other countries because there would be no legal rules yet.

The procedures are worth bearing in mind. They are not well-known, even among people who follow trade.

This was demonstrated when I ran a little poll on Twitter on this subject. Out of 150 people who responded, 86% were wrong.

Continue reading “‘Fisheries subsidies’ has been agreed by WTO ministers. What’s next?”

India and South Africa pour cold water on alternative approach to WTO talks

On the day she started her term as new WTO chief, Okonjo-Iweala faced a challenge to her vision

SEE ALSO
Explainer: The 18 WTO plurilaterals and ‘joint-statement initiatives’
Participants in the present plurilaterals: Technical note

For a taste of the intense debate on this in the WTO General Council,
see this 13-page extract from the minutes (March 2021 meeting)

There are also signs that the “plurilateral” approach can
produce results. See “‘Plurilateral’ WTO services
deal struck after breakthrough text released

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED FEBRUARY 22, 2021 | UPDATED JANUARY 10, 2022

It’s tempting to call it a bombshell. But the warning signs have been around for some time. Nevertheless a new paper from India and South Africa signals a tough ride for the new head of the World Trade Organization’s ambitions to drive negotiations forward.

The paper criticises negotiations involving only part of the WTO’s membership. They are called “plurilaterals” and are seen as a way of breaking deadlock when consensus is elusive.

Continue reading “India and South Africa pour cold water on alternative approach to WTO talks”

The WTO’s deadlock over an intellectual property waiver for COVID-19

Questions and explanations about why the waiver is proposed, why it’s opposed and what it would mean

Update: In a remarkable turn-around on May 5, 2021, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced the US would support the waiver and negotiate based on a proposed text. The press release referred only to COVID-19 vaccines, not other products. Tai said:

This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures. The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protection, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines. We will actively participate in text-based negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) needed to make that happen. Those negotiations will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved.

“The Administration’s aim is to get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as fast as possible. As our vaccine supply for the American people is secured, the Administration will continue to ramp up its efforts — working with the private sector and all possible partners — to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution. It will also work to increase the raw materials needed to produce those vaccines
.”

More:

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED DECEMBER 17, 2020 | UPDATED FEBRUARY 13, 2022

A petition with almost a million signatures was delivered to the World Trade Organization on December 9, 2020, calling for the WTO “to urgently ensure access to lifesaving Covid-19 vaccines, treatments and equipment for everyone in the world”.

We can overlook the fact that the WTO has no power to “ensure” anything of the kind. What the petition aimed to do was to support a proposal to waive WTO intellectual property rules temporarily where related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The delivery was timed for the discussion the following day when members met as the Council for Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (the TRIPS Council). Since then, the proposal has gone nowhere.

Continue reading “The WTO’s deadlock over an intellectual property waiver for COVID-19”

A ‘WTO-deal’ Brexit? Video and text

I’d never heard of a ‘WTO-deal’ Brexit — until recently. What does it really mean? And does Brexit change it?

 

video iconAvailable as a video (4’40”) on YouTube

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JUNE 17, 2019 | UPDATED JUNE 17

“Mr Speaker, can I welcome the Prime Minister ruling out a second referendum, and ruling out revoking article 50 and leaving a WTO — whether managed or not — deal on the table.”

— Kate Hoey MP,
House of Commons, January 21, 2019

A “WTO deal”. The phrase is spin used to camouflage the negativity of calling it “no deal”. But that’s what it is: no deal between the UK and EU.

We can question if “WTO deal” actually means anything in terms of a relationship between the UK and EU.

Usually the phrase refers to deals struck in negotiations within the WTO, as we shall see. That’s why many claim that for Brexit, it’s nonsense. A “WTO-deal” Brexit doesn’t exist.

Let’s be charitable and assume it might exist. If so, what would it mean? Not much. Continue reading “A ‘WTO-deal’ Brexit? Video and text”

Update: the three essential tasks for the WTO’s trade facilitation deal

A year ago, two-thirds of the WTO’s membership had ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement, activating it in the ratifying countries. What’s happened since then?

By Peter Ungphakorn
FEBRUARY 22, 2018 | UPDATED FEBRUARY 22, 2018

A year ago today, the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement took effect in the ratifying countries amid a blaze of publicity, two decades after it was first proposed.

It was the first new WTO agreement since the late 1990s and its potential benefit was huge, particularly for implementing countries and particularly if their own procedures for handling imports and exports at the border were cumbersome. Continue reading “Update: the three essential tasks for the WTO’s trade facilitation deal”

Hard work lies ahead now that the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement has been activated in 112 countries

Reaching agreement was one test of multilateralism. Making it work will be another

Cape Town: South Africa is one of 51 countries that have not yet ratified the agreement


By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED FEBRUARY 25, 2017 | UPDATED FEBRUARY 28, 2017

It’s always tempting, when a tough negotiation has concluded, to breathe a sigh of relief and proclaim “job done”. But with trade agreements, the job is rarely done. For the World Trade Organization’s shiny new Trade Facilitation Agreement, seriously hard work lies ahead if it is to achieve its potential. Continue reading “Hard work lies ahead now that the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement has been activated in 112 countries”

Can EU law really dictate World Trade Organization rules?

This is a genuine question. I don’t know the answer. Hopefully some lawyers can help explain why the WTO and EU are trying to dodge the question of how to count the organisation’s members

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED DECEMBER 1, 2016 | UPDATED DECEMBER 1, 2016

If you visit the WTO website today, bang in the middle of the homepage is a countdown image declaring that only 10 ratifications are needed before the Trade Facilitation Agreement enters into force.

tfa-countdown-wto-homepage-30nov16
From wto.org homepage December 1, 2016

What you won’t see is another countdown that should be even more exciting.  Much closer to entering into force is a long overdue amendment on pharmaceutical patents — only three more ratifications are needed. Continue reading “Can EU law really dictate World Trade Organization rules?”